This Time of Year

Time is the greatest decorator
Paint those mean things
Red and green things
And hang them on the tree

June Christy – from “Hang Them on the Tree”

Old Christmas card

This old Christmas card, from the collection of the British Library, depicts a “circle of love” around Father Christmas, the British equivalent of Santa Claus. Hopefully, my first Christmas in Britain will have just as much love. (Note the centrality of music in this image.)

Yesterday, the first snowflakes slowly floated down over the rooftops of London, in movements so light as to almost be horizontal. Inside my workplace, the office manager surprised us with columns of shiny tinsel and a friendly plastic reindeer. Christmas is, practically tangibly, in the air. And it seems as though it’s all come together at a perfect moment to start our season of music.

And yet, at least for me personally, Christmas is different this year.

As we progress through life, Christmas takes on a series of different roles – a child’s Christmas is not that of a university student, a first time parent experiences something different than an ageing family matriarch. And that’s before the vagaries that life throws at us, whether positive or challenging, that change and shape our relationship to this most symbol-laden of holidays. For some, it is a relived memory of love, stability and plenty. For others, social pressures, financial instability, loss or stained relationships can cloud the holiday. (Of course, all these events and emotions are amply reflected in the history of Christmas music.)

This year, life (and an inflexible visa process for my wife) had put a road block in the way of my own cherished family Christmas. Instead, the season will be spent with just a few of my closest, in my tiny flat in London. Despite five years in Britain, this is my first Christmas here. And somehow, a lot of the things that bring value to the season shift and change. There’s no room for a big Christmas dinner, so we’ll be perfectly happy with a small selection. There are no children to wrap presents for, so we may skip it entirely. And yet, this new Christmas sounds just as splendid. Because Christmas had never meant just one thing.

One constant, however, is music. Music has always been a central part of Christmas, not least since the beginning of the recording era. And this year is no exception. On Sunday, appropriately the first of advent, the first review of the year will appear, and a constant trickle of music will join us all, in the Christmas circle of love, as the season takes hold.

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